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Acting Pentagon chief cancels overseas trip, cites Venezuela

WASHINGTON (AP) — Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Wednesday abruptly canceled plans to travel to Europe, citing the crisis in Venezuela and the situation along the U.S.-Mexico border. A Shanahan spokesman, Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, said in a statement that Shanahan decided he should remain in Washington to coordinate with the National Security Council and the State Department on Venezuela and the border, where the military is assisting the Homeland Security Department with the migrant crisis.

The Pentagon has thus far played no direct role in Venezuela, where opposition to Nicolas Maduro's government has created a crisis amid a so-far unsuccessful attempt to spark a military uprising. There was no indication that a U.S. military operation was in the works, but Shanahan would be expected to participate in high-level meetings to monitor the situation in Venezuela and consider U.S. options.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a House Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday that the situation in Venezuela was a "little unclear today" and that the U.S. was collecting intelligence to ensure that administration officials have good visibility on what was happening there. He said that, as President Donald Trump has indicated before, all options are on the table, although it's mainly been economic and diplomatic efforts so far.

Buccino's statement came just three hours after the Pentagon had publicly announced Shanahan's trip to Germany, Belgium and England. Shanahan was going to attend ceremonies in Germany on Thursday and Belgium on Friday marking the installation of a new commander for U.S. European Command and NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Officials said the change-of-command ceremonies would go forward without Shanahan, who also was going to visit London for consultations with senior British officials.

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